Stop Trying To Make Anarcho-Capitalism A Thing

When I specify my political views, I like to say “anarcho-socialist” because there’s a philosophy out there masquerading as “anarcho-capitalism” and I want to make sure everyone knows I am not that.  I was, for  a few years, but I’m adamantly not anymore.  Because you see, by definition, if you are properly anarchist you cannot be capitalist.

Anarchism is against authority.  Anarchism seeks to empower the people by abolishing hierarchy and allowing direct, participatory self-government.  Capitalism doesn’t give a shit about people, and unregulated capitalism concentrates power (in the form of capital) in the hands of a few, rather than distributing it among all.

What so-called anarcho-capitalists want is an unregulated free market.  They steal the term “anarchy” and apply it to their ideology because they naively assume that authority is only vested in government.  Not so.  People exercise authority over each other in many ways, and one of the primary ways they do so these days is through the structures of capitalism.  Anarchism is historically a worker’s movement and therefore contains on a foundational level a radical critique of capitalism.  The original worker-anarchists understood that the oppression they suffered under capitalism was as much (if not more) of a threat to their wellbeing as government was.  So at the very least, it’s taking a giant shit all over these original anarchists when you try to make “anarcho-capitalism” a thing.

A monarch or even an elected representative normally does not have the best interests of the people at heart. Even the most well-intentioned government official is usually out of touch with the general mass of humanity and therefore incapable of making truly responsible choices in that office.  A capitalist never has the best interests of the people at heart.  At best, a capitalist can only argue that increased capital (the real point of capitalism) is in the long run the best for the people.  Capitalism pursues profit, promising that the increase of profit will benefit the people, rather than ever asking the people what they actually need.  Along the way, capitalism uses the people shamelessly to bring wealth to the managers and business-owners.  All of capitalisms’ functions are keyed to increase profit for the business, at the expense of almost everyone actually working at that business.  Thus, we see corporations nonsensically fighting against having to provide paid sick leave or health insurance for their employees.  Nonsensically, I say, because a healthy worker is more likely to be happy and productive than an unhealthy worker.  But in the logic of the corporation, money out of the company’s pocket that only contributes to the employees’ wellbeing is money ill spent.  This situation is just one of many that proves capitalism does not give a flying fuck for the people.  Increased societal wellbeing and standards of living is a byproduct, but along the way it results in increased misery and alienation for most people.

Anarcho-capitalism is even worse than our current system.  In our current system, big businesses exert an undue amount of influence on the government in some horrifying ways, but at the end of the day the government is also used by the people to bring some check on capitalism.  Imperfect as it is, the people do manage to reign in the capitalist beast just enough to check some of the more rampant abuses.  Without legislators conveying the will of the people (however weakly) through regulation of capitalism, the free market would be free to use human beings as expendable fodder to grow their  companies, just as they used to in the 1800’s when the labor movement and anarchism first gained traction.  Therefore what anarcho-capitalism really wants to do is free capitalism from constraints imposed partially by the will of the people.  Anarcho-capitalism is just capitalism without regulation, which means capitalism without any semblance of regard for people.aynrand

Anarcho-capitalists cannot call themselves radicals.  They may engage in radical activities but at the end of the day they don’t truly want to change the system, they merely want to deregulate it.  That’s why it’s so easy for people to call themselves libertarians or to join the Tea Party, because both are fundamentally conservative positions.

A truly radical, anarchist viewpoint will contain a substantive critique of all forms of power, domination, and hierarchy in society.  It will not reinforce existing power structures, nor will it be a comfortable viewpoint for those who are disproportionately advantaged by the current system (I’ll fully admit that I am one such advantaged person and I am continually stretched and made uncomfortable as I explore the anarcho-socialist ideas I try to embrace).  Anarcho-capitalism in either its pure form (read Ayn Rand if you want a full-on dosage of that bullshit) or its watered down forms (libertarianism, Tea Partyism, etc.) does nothing to change society.  It’s just a bunch of advantaged people telling other advantaged people to stop regulating things.  And if society’s wrongs are to be addressed, the last thing we need is one more elitist circle-jerk.

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6 thoughts on “Stop Trying To Make Anarcho-Capitalism A Thing

  1. What so-called anarcho-capitalists want is an unregulated free market.

    I’m not an an-cap, but it seems like an unstated premise in your post is that regulatory controls tend to restrain the power of capitalists. If so, what would you say to anticapitalists like Kevin Carson who argue that big business would collapse under its own inefficiencies were it not for economic privilege bestowed by government interventions?

    • Excellent question. The thing is, though, power tends to aggregate, especially in capitalism where you need money to make money. I will admit I have only done limited reading on the matter thus far and it would take someone much smarter about economics than I am to make a specific argument backed up by numbers. However, even if deregulation did make life a bit more difficult for big business, capitalism is still set up to reward those in power. It is still a system which succeeds by reducing human labor to a factor in an equation. And it also seems to me (again, I do need to read more & get a better handle on economics) that in global terms, a big business is much more efficient than a bunch of small local businesses.

      Even if at the moment of deregulation, all businesses started out at the same point on a level playing field, certain businesses would pull ahead and become larger. Whether protected by government or not, power in a capitalist system is designed to snowball. Big business, monopolies, industry giants are the apex of the capitalist dream, which is why the labor movement started in the first place (back in the Gilded Age when regulation of business was in its infancy).

      Finally, I would agree that the government certainly does bestow a lot of economic privilege on big businesses (“too big to fail”, bailouts, etc.) which is why I was extremely equivocal when discussing government intervention. Most of the time, the government does favor big business. My point is that every once in a while government regulation does what it is supposed to do. I would agree that mostly government and business feed into one another’s power rather than checking it. But I’m also confident that big business in general would still manage to do quite well for itself and continue to create inequality and exploitive power structures if all regulation were to be removed. We need to imagine and implement a better economic system rather than simply doing away with government and letting the chips fall where they may.

      • But I’m also confident that big business in general would still manage to do quite well for itself and continue to create inequality and exploitive power structures if all regulation were to be removed.

        So, it seems that your apprehension is with market anarchists (including anticapitalist mutualists, not just ancaps). I can understand that sentiment.

        I agree that there is some advantage to large business units, but at some point those advantages are outweighed the diseconomies of scale, according to writers like Kevin Carson. He argues that capitalist business models are progressively more inefficient, less dynamic as they rely on hierarchy the larger they become. Part of their problem is that the top of the hierarchy is cut off from information and is protected from its bad decisions by putting the consequences on their subordinates, for example.

        But maybe he’s wrong. In either case, we should be still be wary of government controls that are promoted by politicians as ways to help ordinary workers, but are backdoor measures to further deform a market in the favor of the politically privileged.

      • Your conclusion is right on, and I would add that’s why it’s important to stay informed about the actual effects of economic policies rather than just taking a politician’s word for it. As I stated before, I’m still quite new to this region of politics so I really appreciate your thoughtful interaction and correction of my probably too off-the-cuff remark about government controls on the market. I will put Carson on my reading list for sure.

  2. For a starting point, I would recommend reading Tom DiLorenzo’s “The Myth of Natural Monopoly” (available as a free .pdf at the Mises Institute’s website). It’s not that long and could really help to clear some things up, factually speaking. In reading your arguments it seems to me it is far more likely that, rather than hating capitalism, you simply have a flawed understanding of capitalism and of free markets. I believe MOST believe have a flawed understanding because the history they’ve been taught has been completely bastardized to the point I, too, would hate “capitalism” if it actually were, in fact, the economic system we currently have. What we suffer under is most definitely NOT capitalism and free markets!

    • I’m interested to hear in what essential points you think real capitalism differs from our current system. I’m pretty sure that what I hate is the idea and values of capitalism rather than just its current incarnation, but maybe you’re right and I just don’t understand what it is I’m hating (given my background in history and politics, that’s not likely, but I suppose it’s possible).

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